As an orchestra tunes up before a concert, the conductor takes their place on the podium in front of the arc. At Polk Street's two-month-old Pelo Fitness, Alan Roberts also considers himself a conductor—of his spin class.
Roberts, a former professional drummer, is the founder of Pelo, which started in San Rafael in 2012. It's named for peloton (French for “group”), the cluster of riders during a bike race, and centered around the idea of riders coming together as a community.
“It’s easier to stay with exercise when you’re in a group,” Roberts said.
After touring the world with Lenny Kravitz, Madonna and Bette Midler, Roberts became a nationally ranked competitive cyclist. But when he took his first spin class, even he struggled to achieve the instructor's guidance to "add some," "give it a quarter turn," or "make it feel like a 6/10."
So he decided to open a cycling studio based on the principle of power, an absolute value of speed times resistance. Roberts favors power over the typical spin metric of heart rate, which he said is more difficult to monitor, and can be influenced by outside variables, such as stress, hydration, sleep and even the temperature of the room.
As a result, all participants in Pelo's classes are able to progress throughout the workout’s five zones, experiencing the same relative workout based on their level of fitness.
“When you sign up, you answer a questionnaire rating your fitness frequency,” Roberts explained. “Never exercising means the workout will be skewed easily, so that you’re likely to succeed.”
“You could be sitting in there next to your 80-year-old grandmother, and we can tell you both go to zone three, and you can both do it,” he continued. “You might have 15 gears of resistance between you, but if I asked you what you were feeling, you’d both say the same thing.”
Roberts also developed software that tracks the zones for each rider, displaying them on screens around the room. Like a conductor asking an oboist to play out more, instructors can control individual riders' rigor if they think they could be working harder.
In keeping with his previous career as a musician, Roberts had the Polk Street location’s studio designed to be acoustically sound, creating a more energetic musical experience for riders.
“We wanted to design a room where you could turn the music up and really get the energy of the music without wanting to scream,” Roberts said. “It’s also isolated, so that we’re not disturbing our neighbors.”
The space also has a lounge, with couches and tables among the hoodies and T-shirts on sale. In San Rafael, Roberts said, participants often hang around chatting with one another in the lounge following their class.
He's delighted by the positive feedback he got from one new Polk Street rider, who told him: “You’re real enough for the average cyclist, but you’re also fun enough for the average person."
In the end, he said, fun is what it's all about. “If we can create an experience that is based on real exercise physiology, but where the lights are down, the music’s thumping, at the end of it you’re high-fiving the person you came with, and you walk out knowing you just killed it, it’s easy to come back and stick with it.”
Pelo Fitness offers classes seven days a week, beginning as early as 6am and as late as 7pm. Classes run $21-$28 each, and package deals are available.
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